Delivering quality education to Nigeria’s large, youthful and rapidly growing population presents significant challenges, but also opportunities for education investors. Indeed, 43% of the 213m citizens in 2021 were under 14 years of age and the country’s annual population growth was 2.7% that year. There are a high number of out-of-school children due in part to insufficient infrastructure and pedagogical resources, as well as the ongoing unrest in the northern parts of the country.


Different levels of education are administered at the federal, state and local government levels. The Federal Ministry of Education (FME) is charged with the oversight and organisation of the education sector under four agencies: the Universal Basic Education (UBE) Commission, the National Commission for Mass Literacy, Adult and Non-Formal Education, responsible for the eradication of illiteracy; the National Commission for Nomadic Education, responsible for providing education to the country’s nomadic population; and the National Board for Technical Education, which coordinates technical and vocational education.

State and local authorities are responsible for the broader implementation of federal policies. The UBE Commission supports numerous education programmes across state and local government through the UBE Intervention Fund, which receives 2% of the federal government’s Consolidated Revenue Fund. Additionally, the FME manages 15 other education agencies, including the National Universities Commission (NUC), the Teachers’ Registration Council of Nigeria, the National Commission for Colleges and Education, the National Examinations Council, the National Teachers Institute and the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB).

Policies & Legal Mandate

The government has implemented several policies over the years aimed at improving learning outcomes. These include the National Policy on Education (NPE), implemented in 2013. Highlights of the NPE include key issues such as a 10-year basic education, quality education provision through effective performance evaluation, and improved teacher quality by professionalising the role and providing incentives for teachers. Further initiatives include the National Gender Policy, which was implemented in 2006; the National Policy for Integrated Early Childhood Development, introduced in 2007; and the National Policy on Inclusive Education, which began in 2016.


Nigeria offers its citizens a public education system consisting of pre-primary, primary, junior and senior secondary, and tertiary levels. The country’s education system is based on a 1-6-3-3-4 model: one year of pre-primary education; six years of primary school; three years of junior secondary school; three years of senior secondary school; and four years of tertiary education. The private sector is active in the education sector, and is directly involved in teaching students through institutions that must comply with set standard guidelines and receive government approval. Religious organisations are also involved in the provision of education. For example, Islamic organisations have Quranic schools in some areas of the country.

Early Education

In preparation for early schooling, pre-primary education has become increasingly popular. According to the most recent available data, in 2018 there were around 7.3m children enrolled in early childhood care, development and education (ECCDE). This level includes kindergarten and three levels of nursery schooling. A particular emphasis has been placed on enhancing access in non-urban areas: that year the Annual School Census showed that around 54% of children enrolled in ECCDE programmes lived in rural locations.

Primary & Junior Secondary

Nine years of compulsory primary and junior secondary education are provided by the government, although enrolment rates remain low. While a mandate guarantees free education under UBE, parents must pay school levies for young learners. Additional expenses such as books, supplies, uniforms, parent-teacher association fees, exam fees and food place extra pressure on some families, putting education out of reach.

Students at these levels study a number of subjects including mathematics, English, a local language, science and technology, cultural and creative arts, religion and national values. Teachers in the primary school level are required to possess a national certificate in education, awarded by an institution of higher education. However, this is not always the case in practice, as a lack of sufficient teachers in some regions means that holders of lower-level certificates are permitted to teach in primary schools.

During the 2018/19 school year 22.9m children in Nigeria were enrolled in public primary schools and 5.7m children in private primary schools, according to the most recent available government data. The attendance for ratio that year was 65%. Given this figure and that the school age for primary education is from six to 11 years old, for every 65 learners at least 25 were older than the official school age. There were around 65,000 public and 51,500 private primary schools across the country that year. The distribution of public and private schools varied by region, however. In Sokoto, for instance, 10% of primary schools were private, whereas 90% of primary schools in Lagos were private.

Meanwhile, in the same academic year 6.7m students were enrolled in junior secondary schools. There were 13,129 public and 17,896 private junior secondary schools. Pupils who pass the entrance examination to secondary schools are given access to three years of junior secondary education in English. At the end of the three-year period students must pass another examination to pass to the next phase.

Senior Secondary

Students have a range of options upon completion of their initial nine years of primary and junior secondary schooling, including continuing on with senior secondary education, vocational training and apprenticeships, or technical colleges. Students who choose to continue with secondary school participate in the second phase of secondary education, which lasts an additional three years. Upon completion of the education cycle and successfully passing an examination, students receive the Senior Secondary School Certificate (SSSC). The SSSC is the equivalent of the former West African School Certificate. Learners study a mix of compulsory classes, which include English, mathematics and civic education, and electives under four branches: humanities, science and mathematics, technology and business studies.

Technical, commercial and vocational secondary schools offer alternatives for Nigerians looking to gain both academic and practical skills for early entry into the workforce. These institutions are key to helping the country tackle its relatively high youth and high unemployment and poverty rates by providing entrepreneurial and technical skills.

As of the 2018/19 academic year there were 5.2m senior secondary students, up from 4.5m in the previous academic year. The number of senior secondary schools stood at 27,042, 17,453 of which were private schools and 9,589 public. Meanwhile, according to the 2018 Nigeria Living Standards Survey, the attendance ratio in senior secondary schools was estimated to have been 34%.


Upon completion of the Universities Matriculation Examination, conducted by JAMB, students are eligible to enter institutions of higher education or tertiary education for a minimum of four years. Length of study can vary depending on the professional track chosen. However, due to the limited number of available seats in public institutions, some students who pass the examination may not be able to obtain a place. Academic departments determine the cut-off scores needed for admission.

The NUC, a parastatal organisation under the FME and established in 1962, supervises the development and management of university education in Nigeria. According to the NUC there were 173 universities operating in the country in 2021, up from 16 in 1980. These included 45 federal universities, 49 state universities and 79 private universities.

As of the 2018/19 academic year there were 4.7m students at the tertiary education level, of which 50% were attending university, 33% enrolled in technical and vocational schooling, and 17% in tertiary colleges. The enrolment rate was 16.5% of students between 18 and 24 years old that year, suggesting a need for greater levels of tertiary education infrastructure to accommodate demand. Indeed, according to JAMB, of some 2m applicants for tertiary education in 2019, two-thirds were not accepted.

There were an estimated 2.3m students attending university in 2019. Of those, 2.2m were in government universities, and 111,200 in private universities. There were around 1.1m women enrolled, or 45.7% of the total. The largest university in 2019 was the National Open University of Nigeria, with over 565,000 students, followed by the University of Maiduguri with nearly 75,000 pupils and the University of Ilorin with around 54,000 learners.

Gebder Party

Nigeria is making progress in terms of reducing the gender gap of early childhood education school attendance in conflict regions. In 2018 there were 28.6m learners enrolled in primary schools across the country, of which 13.9m were girls, highlighting that there were 800,000 more boys enrolled than girls. The equal participation of girls and boys in preschool in the conflict-affected states of Borno, Kano, and Katsina reflects progress, even as there remains room for improvement. A closer look at other areas, however, exhibit obstacles in attaining gender parity. For instance, in Yobe State in the north-east there were some areas with as few as 35 girls for every 100 boys and other areas with 115 girls for every 100 boys, demonstrating that while the country shows gender parity federally, more work is still needed at the state level.

One programme includes the Safe Schools Initiative, which targets female literacy in the northeast of the country. The initiative was launched in 2015 by the FME in partnership with the UN Special Envoy for Education, UN Development Programme, UN Multi-Partner Trust Fund Office and the Nigerian Global Business Coalition for Education. The initiative entails a combination of school-based and community interventions to safeguard schools and special measures to protect at-risk groups.

Enrolment Obstacles

Despite expansion in education opportunities, the World Bank reported in 2022 that Nigeria had around 11m out-of-school children between the ages of six and 15, or 42% of its primary school-age children. This figure represents one in 12 out-of-school children globally, according to the UN. Furthermore, the UN estimated that the percentage of out of school children was 30 times greater in the north-east than in the south-east due to cultural practices and conflicts.

Improving enrolment rates, particularly for females, is positively correlated with a higher GDP and life expectancy, making it a priority for the government. The Covid-19 pandemic augmented challenges in enrolment, and highlighted areas were development is needed in teaching facilities and infrastructure. As of 2018 less than 10% of universities had video conferencing facilities and the university system had a 30% deficit of teachers, affecting the productivity of the workforce and its ability to offer quality education to students.


The federal government allocated 8.2% of its 2023 budget to education, up from 5.4% in 2022. This increase includes N972.9bn ($2.3bn) earmarked for the FME and its agencies, N103.3bn ($246.1m) to the UBE Commission, N248.3bn ($591.6m) to Transfers to the Tertiary Education Trust Fund for infrastructure projects in tertiary institutions, and N470bn ($1.1bn) to Tertiary Education Revitalisation and Salary Enhancement. This will help the sector improve student outcomes, and equip teachers to provide quality education. “Better teacher training programmes are necessary across all institutions preparing new teachers. There is a critical need for capacity building of lecturers at all levels on modern pedagogies, for facilities and hardware,” Zephrinus Njoku, head of the Department of Science Education at the University of Nigeria, told OBG.


Demand for education in Nigeria is expected to continue to outpace supply and a lack of resources could impact mobility opportunities for the country’s growing youth population. Despite inadequate funding in Nigeria’s public schools, new academic institutions are entering the market to focus on critical skills in science, technology, engineering and maths, providing students with the skills to contribute to the development of the country.